04 February 2014

gateway spirituality

Recently I have had an encounter with the practice of yoga, which has become an increasingly 'controversial' issue among Christians.  The primary dismissive response to concerns for yoga is typically found in the phrase, "Well, it's just stretching."  Despite that a number of Christian thinkers, Catholic leaders, and even yoga proponents all speak of the practice as being spiritually powerful and influential in the life of the individual, many churchgoers are quick to assume that such thoughts are simply reactive.  (Or, that they themselves are immune from such dangers - for one reason or another ... that's a frightening spiritual place to be.)

At this point I am not so much interested in the ins and outs of the practice of yoga.  These issues have been covered extensively elsewhere, and the argument here will readily assume the dangers of the practice.  My concern is the increasingly wide acceptance and practice of yoga among Christians and young people.  There are a good number of churches that host or sponsor a Christian yoga, many schools and preschools have yoga time as part of the curriculum, and even among the most popular workout fads there is an element of yoga built in.

Let me first address the widespread inclusion of yoga as a health fad.  It appears as though everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of yoga in their particular exercise niche.  One particular exercise DVD advertises "power yoga" as a means of increasing sales.  Having viewed some (certainly not all) of these, I would be willing to concede that much of what is labelled yoga in the multimillion dollar health and exercise industry is not actually a yoga practice.  Now, this probably won't become the stuff of class-action lawsuits over false-advertising, but it demonstrates the increasingly wide definitions that are being imposed on some of these practices.

In regards to yoga being taught to children, it is a sad commentary on our nation when we are not allowed to make references to God in our schools because of a pseudo-understnading of separating church and state, but that a practice which is intrinsically bound to the transcendental meditation of Hinduism is opened and encouraged by administrators.  Therein lies a political issue that could be explored as well.  Even in religious schools the practice of yoga has found a home, which raises concerns about the ability for young students to properly discern spiritual practices.

As far as church-sponsored yoga is concerned, there is perhaps no greater underscoring of our contemporary Christianity's lack of understanding of this practice.  We are inviting into our churches, and thereby endorsing, practices which are contrary to the admonitions and perspectives of biblical faith.  We have become so "open" about issues such as these while simultaneously confounded at the lack of dynamic faith and spirituality in our congregations, as though the spiritual realm only connects where we find it convenient to do so.

With each of these issues I hope to, in broad strokes, demonstrate one simple correlation - namely, that yoga is a gateway practice for much deeper and disturbing spiritualities.  I have conceded that not everything that is labelled yoga is actually such, but the inverse is also true in that much of what is said to be a harmless non-yoga is in fact a path leading to serious spirituality (not necessarily the type of spirituality you went looking for, however).  It is as though yoga is the legalized-marjiuana of the spiritual world - it is something that you are allowed to play around with, even marveling at its supposed benefits, though it can quickly and easily guide you into more serious and dangerous entities.

It is easy to point to our schools and say that these children simply lack the spiritual discernment to understand what is and is not healthy spiritual practice to make their own decisions about yoga.  But the same is said to be true of adults as well, for we are all susceptible to spiritualities that might masquerade as an angel of light but are something much worse.  That yoga has become a point-of-advertising, or an add-on routine to our exercises has not reduced its potential for spiritual, emotional and physical danger.  Our dismissiveness does not diminish the danger.  Rather, our lack of concern only makes us more easily drawn away from the true light of the world.

To help understand this point, you might consider Sharon Beekman's work, Enticed by the Light.

These gateways are important to recognize, for what we might consider to be a harmless practice of yoga can quickly become something different.  Probably, the vast majority of people who have enjoyed a round or two of some sort of health and exercise 'yoga' have not had any problems, nor have they caused themselves any problems.  In fact, with the amount of devotion our culture gives to spiritual or physical endeavors probably means that most people haven't been overly devoted to mind, spirit or body in any stated direction.  (This is an issue for another discussion altogether.)  Yet, sometimes we find that a harmless activity has been an unchecked part of our lives for so long that we missed out on their true effects until the damage has been done.  This is what happened with me and junk food, which many people are more readily willing to recognize than the "rather casual" matter of spiritual health.

Gateways can be rather interesting and dangerous, but not always for the right reasons.  Be cautious.

No comments: